By: Dwayne Tingley
Bill Fletcher is impressed when he looks at the list of teams competing at this year’s AUS women’s and men’s curling championships.
Both fields are filled with former provincial junior champions and curlers who have advanced to Canadian men’s and women’s championships.
“We’ve got curlers who can go up against the best players in the world and they are still very young,” said Fletcher, who is chairman of this year’s AUS championship bonspiels, which begin Thursday and run through the weekend at the CFB Halifax Curling Club.
Fletcher is also the head coach of the Saint Mary’s Huskies women’s team and is an associate coach with Chad Stephens with the men’s team. The Huskies are hosts for the sixth annual Subway AUS Championships, presented by Keep it Social.
“The curlers have a lot of national experience and you’re going to see a lot of them in Briers and Scotties tournaments for many years to come,” Fletcher said.
“Both fields are going to be very competitive and I don’t think you can single out one or two teams as the favourites,” he said. “We’ll have to see which teams get hot for a few days. Every team that is entered is capable of winning.”
Action begins with the first draw on Thursday at 1 p.m. Two-time world champion Kim Kelly, who was named Canada’s eighth best curler of all-time in a TSN poll, will be the guest speaker at a tournament social after the opening draw.
Six women’s teams and five men’s teams will each compete in a round-robin format with the top four advancing to semifinals on Saturday night. Championship games will go on Sunday morning and all four finalists will earn berths into the U SPORTS national championship bonspiel March 11-15 in Portage la Prairie, Man.
The U SPORTS winners will represent Canada at the World University Games later this year in Lucerne, Switzerland.
The Dalhousie Tigers are the defending AUS champions in the men’s and women’s divisions.
Three of the four members of the men’s team are returning—skip Matt Manuel, mate Owen Purcell and second Jeffrey Meagher. Only lead Adam McEachren is new to the team.
“Our expectation would be to repeat as AUS champions, knowing that there are some great teams that will be going after the title as well,” said Tigers coach Anthony Purcell. “Definitely, every win will be earned by all teams.”
“(The Tigers) have the ability to play offence and defence and adjust to whatever the ice conditions will give you,” he added. “It’s a very strong team.”
Members of the host Huskies are: skip Graeme Weagle, Adam Cocks, Scott Weagle and Colin MacKenzie.
The Memorial Sea-Hawks earned a U SPORTS men’s curling title in 2017 and were national silver medalists last season. Members of this year’s team are skip Greg Blyde, Daniel Bruce, Ryan McNeil Lamswood and Benjamin Stronger. Denns Bruce is the coach.
Members of the StFX X-Men are: skip Kyle Walker, Michael Steele, Ethan Anderson and Owen Reay while Scott Anderson is the coach. Members of the UNB Reds are: skip Jack Smeltzer, Connor Good, Alex Gallant, Parker MacFadyen and Dylan MacDonald while Lindsey MacKnight is the coach.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are also the defending AUS champions in the women’s division, but they enter the AUS championships with a new roster, including coach Mike Callaghan.
New skip Kristin Clarke is a two-time Canadian and world junior champion (2016 and 2018) and a three-time Nova Scotia under-21 champion.
Teammates Lindsey Burgess, Kate Callaghan, Sarah Gierling and Madison Johnson also have stellar curling resumes.
“As the coach,” said Mike Callaghan, “I would expect this team to have a legitimate opportunity to represent Dal at the U SPORTS championship in Manitoba.
“Curling rewards teams and players that work hard at the game and these ladies do that. If we play to our ability and potential, we will be tough,” he continued.
“The rest of the field is composed with some very tough teams, which have provincial and national experience.”
Members of the host Saint Mary’s Huskies are: skip Taylour Stevens, Stephanie Carson, Julie Carson and Megan Hodnett.
Members of the Memorial Sea-Hawks women’s team are: skip Mackenzie Mitchell, Katie Follett, Felicity Snow and Claire Hartlen. Members of the StFX X-Women are: skip Emma Kealy, Therese McCurdy, Victoria Rankin, Paige Knechel and Victoria Glasner.
Members of the UNB Reds are: skip Justine Comeau, Erica Cluff, Keira McLaughlin, Meghan Beland and Brigitte Comeau. Members of the Mount Allison Mounties are: skip Samantha Crook, Julia Hunter, Sarah Doak and Lauren Whiteway.